At the Pennsylvania-Maryland border we cross the Mason-Dixon Line. Shortly after, we make camp by a contaminated water source but Toesalad is able to find water from a friendly neighbor. The Cumberland Valley offers a change of hiking scenery as we walk through cornfields and farmlands. We deal with cuts, bruises, blisters and ticks, but also discover the joys of slackpacking.
At Harpers Ferry, West Virginia we reach the psychological halfway point of the hike, if not the actual mileage halfway point. Tenacious Bling's spirits are buoyed by a new pink shirt and we take a day off with trail friend Brave and her family. After reuniting with old hiking friends and registering our progress at the historic Appalachian Trail Conservancy headquarters we are encouraged as we continue our trek through the Mid-Atlantic states.
It goes without saying that a backpack is an important piece of gear. After much consideration and research we decided on Gossamer Gear packs for four of our family members.
To maintain foot health, not only do we pay attention to our footwear but also our foot care. Proper foot care is as important as choosing the right shoes and helps with everything from blister prevention to relieving muscle soreness and aches. Rocket Pure provides all natural foot care in the form of healing and preventative balms.
In Virginia we welcome the grandparents to the trail. Together we enjoy a church hiker feed followed by our first night hike. Other highlights are the wild ponies of Grayson Highlands State Park and our first swimming hole. Along with the happy times we experience a few hardships - getting sick, broken shoes, and eating wieners from a can.
What do we eat? How do we cook it? What kind of stoves and pots do we use? Watch to find out.
Summer is in full swing, and I want my little one's toes to be free and bare as often as possible. However, there are times when that simply isn't practical. I like to have a couple pairs of summer shoes on hand for such occasions. The KidoFit Lily and Frogy have been my four year old's "go-to" shoes for the summer.
In the middle of May, we arrive in Damascus, Virginia, just in time for the largest gathering on the Appalachian Trail - the annual Trail Days festival. A two day hiking break for our family includes checking out gear vendors, lining up for free hiker feeds, and visiting with trail friends. Padawan celebrates her 15th birthday in hiker style with cake and beer (root beer) at the Hyperlite Mountain Gear tent.
Every day on the trail offers unexpected gifts, sometimes very beautiful ones. We discover some of Tennessee's treasures and we deal with our family's first trail "injury", which didn't even happen on the trail.
In claiming that they've built a shoe which works well for both minimalist-style trail running and climbing/scrambling/approach use, Patagonia has set themselves a high bar with the Rover. No other shoe claims the same, likely because there are a number of traits normally considered essential in minimalist running shoes which fundamentally contradict those found in good approach shoes. Patagonia managed to thread the needle and combine those traits, as well as pay attention to fundamentals and make a comfortable and durable shoe which does a lot of things well.
Tenacious bling talks wild flowers, Damien and Renee talk all things feet, and the entire family gets to meet trail angel extraordinaire, Miss Janet and her "bounce box".
Max Patch in North Carolina is one of the renowned "balds" of the southern Appalachians. We hike the bald on a beautiful spring day and share the summit with our hiking friends. The kids answer questions about pack weights, "are your packs heavy?", stream crossings, and hotels in the woods. Our family enjoys a two night stay in Hot Springs, a quaint trail town in North Carolina. Spring's arrival and warmer days brings out both blooming flowers and reptiles. A poignant interview with trail friend and fellow hiker Smokin' Bear helps us appreciate the amazing gift of being on the trail together.
After 166 miles the trail crosses Fontana Dam, the highest dam east of the Rocky Mountains. Immediately after Fontana Dam we enter the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. We have heard much about this wilderness gem on the Appalachian Trail. The mountains are beautiful and the park is one the "wildest" places in the southern Appalachian range but the shelter regulations mean lots of hikers crammed together at camp. In the park we meet another thru-hiking family and enjoy hiking with them. We miscalculate the number of days we will be hiking and are thankful for a snack resupply at Standing Bear Farm, just after exiting the park. Geography lessons, an encounter with a bear, sleeping in crowded shelters, making new friends, and beautiful hiking are just a few of the memorable experiences from our Smoky Mountain hike.
In the second week of our hike we cross our first state border from Georgia into North Carolina. No matter where we are on the trail the people we meet are one of the highlights for us. Another highlight is staying with host families - eating home cooked food and playing with other kids. The kids enjoy using technology and having internet access when off trail but Tenacious Bling chooses to send back her iPad because of the weight. Getting a new tent, increasing our daily mileage, and becoming more efficient at camp and town routines are all part of finding our feet on the trail in these first few weeks.